Company values are the foundation of successful business operations — they guide strategic decisions, help shape corporate culture and provide meaning for your employees. Whether your company is a startup or an established household name, defining your values can refocus and re-energize your brand.
Evaluate Existing Values
The first step in capturing values is to evaluate existing beliefs. Sit down with your employees in small groups, and ask them what they perceive to be current company values. Make a master list, and with your employees, rank the values from highest to lowest priority. Choose the items with the broadest support, and place them on a list of finalists. This step helps you identify values that are important but unspoken, and ensures that you retain the beliefs that have led to a successful business and corporate culture.
Identify Missing Links
Part of defining company values is choosing a direction for the future. Ask your leadership team and employees to contribute the beliefs they'd like to see implemented. Look for patterns. If all of your workers feel strongly about a commitment to the environment, for example, add green practices to your short list. Pay attention also to ideas that elicit a dramatic emotional response — an emotional connection to a corporate value can motivate workers and increase employee engagement. By inviting input, you give workers ownership over the process and help them feel invested in the company.
Company values often come with sacrifices, so it's important to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Before you choose a set of core principles, lay out the costs and potential negative impacts for each item on your short list. A commitment to diversity might require revolutionizing the hiring process or implementing expensive and time-consuming diversity initiatives; green business practices could mean an investment in recycling or a shift in manufacturing operations. Once you complete an honest evaluation of each value, decide if you can live with the costs.
Create Specific Language
When it comes to company values, language is important — it helps employees and customers understand exactly how each value relates to your business. Work with company leaders to turn your short list of values into clear, concise statements. Aim for a level of detail that ensures clarity but leaves room to maneuver. Consider one of Zappos' core value statements: "Pursue growth and learning." This simple phrase communicates a dedication to personal and corporate advancement without restricting the methods. Your final value statements can be used in corporate policy, employee communication, recruiting materials and marketing to communicate and reinforce the company's belief system.
The process of identifying and defining company values requires time and self-examination. By dedicating the time and resources to achieve buy-in, however, you can create a set of values that unifies employees and inspires progress.
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